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Green Sports Alliance recruits fans, athletes and suppliers to join the big leagues in protecting the earth

“When you tell fans (like Trail Blazers' execs did), ‘Hey, we want you to bike to our games,’ thousands of people come out and start biking to games,” he said. “Then they think ‘Oh, I did it once, I can do it again.' You see hundreds and hundreds of people biking to games, and then you see people biking to work, not just games. You ask fans to participate in recycling and join us to start composting, then they start doing it at home.”

Green Sporting. Photo by Jim Culp.
Photo of CenturyLink Field by Jim Culp via Flickr

Canucks Sports & Entertainment is a lot greener than the colours on the team’s jersey. For years, the organization has been working with Green Sports Alliance (GSA) to improve on environmental practices in the sports realm.

GSA is working on recruiting leagues, teams, venues and fans from all over the world to channel the spirit into environmental ‘sports greening’ initiatives – saving energy, cutting waste, protecting animals.

The Canucks organization became one of the founding six members of GSA back in 2011. Other founding members include MLB’s Seattle Mariners, NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers, WNBA’s Seattle Storm and MLS’ Seattle Sounders FC.

Since then, GSA has expanded to more than 350 members from 20 leagues  in 13 countries.

With the help of renowned environmentalist Dr. Allen Hershkowitz as its newly appointed President and Justin Zeulner, a leader in the greening of professional sports, its Chief Operating Officer, GSA is shifting the  way the public thinks about sustainability in a non-political manner.

Almost every neighbourhood has a baseball, hockey or basketball court. Every newspaper in the country, and maybe around the world has a section on sports. This is a message, people really engage with this issue. The most satisfying thing in all this for me is that it is just non-political,” Hershkowitz told The Vancouver Observer.

“It’s just so frustrating to see scientists' reporting saturated with political overtones. That goes away when you deal with sports...We’re tying together science and sports to instigate a cultural shift.”

What can “sports greening” do?

The GSA has been working on three components to make an environmental change in the sports industry and community: enhancing operations, enhancing supply chain influence and enhancing fan engagement.

Educating the sports venues, operations, events staff how to operate in an environmentally better way: One way to help improve greener sports, is to analyze the on ground operations and informing the staff how they can reduce energy use, reduce water use, how they can promote recycling, food donations and composting; essentially, how they can reduce their operating costs while reducing their environmental impacts.

Engaging with the supply chains of professional sports:  Many industries participate in a professional sporting event, said Hershkowitz. Industries like food, textile, water, energy, transportation and the chemical industries are all either suppliers or sponsors to the sports industry.

“When the sports industry says ‘we want environmentally better products, we want to get our energy in a way that is not disrupting the atmosphere, we want materials that can be recycled or composted, we want to use cleaning products that are not toxic.’ That sends an enormous message, a non-political message to the supply chain. Remember, the global sports industry is a 1.3 trillion dollar industry,” he added. “The economic influence of sports sending a message to a market place is enormous.”

Channeling Fan engagement: Billions of people watch sports, said Hershkowitz. In the US “13 per cent say they pay attention to science and 86 per cent say they pay attention to sports,” so sports is the  great non-controversial platform to educate fans about how to engage in environmentally better practices at home, how they can recycle and compose at home and how they could engage in smarter transportation options.

Justin Zeulner, who has previously worked with the owner of the Seahawks and Trail Blazers to be more sustainable and reduce costs and for his teams, says he’s seen these elements work in practice and it provides the opportunity to “enhance the business model of sports” and just makes “more business sense.” 

“This a global movement. It’s not just something we’re doing that’s local in the US or North America. It provides the opportunity to enhance the business model of sports… We’re able to take those best practices we found with the Trail Blazers and the Seahawks or the Eagles and we can now share these best practices, not only enhancing what we begun to do, but to get everybody to understand what we can do collectively.”

Photo Courtesy of GSA

How does it work in practice?

The change occurs following a discussion and analysis. Canucks Sports & Entertainment evaluated the changes it needed to make to be more sustainable. For example, the Canucks worked closely with BC Hydro Power Smart prior to the construction of Rogers Arena to ensure the building was designed using the most current technologies for energy conservation.

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